Elenore Meherin and Larry Clinton/Sausalito Historical Society
A Saucelito Rancho fiesta for the men of the USS Portsmouth was abruptly interrupted in June, 1846, with news of the Bear Flag revolt in nearby Sonoma. Here’s Sausalito News columnist Elenore Meherin’s account, edited for brevity and clarity:
The horseman who came galloping, swift and gaunt in the moonlight, was Don Jose de la Rosa. He had travelled the 70 miles from Sonoma to the Richardson hacienda in a few hours.
For a moment he stood in dusty splendor, his silver trappings obscured, crimson velvet and ruffles of lace bedraggled. In the mellow radiance of the hundred tallow dips, girls and caballeros danced in the sala. The young men in their embroidered jackets with bangles tinkling, swung the señoritas in circles. With their skirts of purple and green and scarlet billowing, their fans swaying and the flowers in their hair a-gleam, they looked like figures flitting through a rainbow.
The dance went on, young voices lifted in happy song. Suddenly, as though a knife had stabbed to every heart, the dance, the song, the laughter stopped. They clamored about Don Jose while the word went from lip to muted lip, “The Gringoes have taken Sonoma!” At three in the afternoon, Don Jose, sent as a messenger from Colonel Vallejo, had left the captured hacienda intent on reaching Captain John Montgomery in command of the Portsmouth now at anchor in Whalers’ Harbor, Saucelito. This is the damning and unbelievable story brought by Don Jose to Captain Richardson. It’s history now but a mean and sorry page.
At dawn that Sunday, there came a banging at the door of Colonel Vallejo’s hacienda. The Colonel saw the plaza filled with armed men. Three of the hulking figures, their rifles on their shoulders, now stormed with rocks at the door.
They took their friend Colonel Vallejo prisoner and marched him to the camp of Captain John Fremont.
Don Jose stood amidst the hushed dancers in Captain Richardson’s hacienda. He leaned on his sword, his eyes glinting through a film of dust, his face hard and sharp as though cut from stone.
“Will Captain Fremont help?” The question came softly like a troubled sigh. Across the room from the arbor where the musicians sat, their hands idle on their fiddles, a deep contemptuous grunt answered. An Indian, immensely tall, with snow-white hair but straight as a lance stalked from the shadows.
The immortal ancient, Monico. He looked directly at Captain Richardson and said in his deep musical voice, “The Gringo captain will not help! The Gringo captain sent out an order, ‘Let the settlers who have nothing to lose go about provoking the Mexicans, let them steal horses and cattle and force the soldiers of Castro to start the battle!’ Then they, the Gringoes, will come in and steal the homes from under you. The order is obeyed.”
Don Jose lifted his sword, flecked away the dust and said slowly, “I fear Monico is right. I have heard the settlers boasting of the fine horses they steal. They say there will be war and they will own the land. They think we are cowards and will not fight.” Mariana Richardson standing quiet, shaken and angry felt the Yankee lieutenant stiffen. His fingers which still clasped her arm tightened, but he asked in a voice of measured calm, “Have they raised the American flag?”
A faint scornful smile touched Don Jose’s thin lips. For the Bears had not dared raise the Stars and Stripes. They had requisitioned a red flannel petticoat from one of the wives, a square of white muslin and a pot of black ink from another. William Todd was elected artist. He was to draw a Grizzly Bear. This would signify the valor of the insurgents.
“But everyone is laughing,” said Don Jose, ‘‘for their bear has turned out to be a big, hulking pig. Their pig banner no doubt now flies over Sonoma.” He turned to the Americans whom he recognized as officers of the Portsmouth and asked if they would accompany him to their ship.
In a moment the road outside the patio was alive with horsemen dashing down the moonlit strand. A hush fell on the women left alone in the sala.
Mariana stood on the patio, straining her eyes after the riders. A hot hand clasped hers. ‘You did not go with them, Ramon”? she said, anxiously.
“I did not go with them!” he answered ominously. She glanced up, startled, found his beautiful eyes glowing like lighted coals. He said hoarsely, “Querida, I am taking the white stallion to Tia Hilarita’s rancho. I will break him for you. In a week I will return and he will follow you as faithful, as gentle,” the words stopped. He reached out and took her white beautiful face in his hands and smiled at her and went on warmly, “will follow you as faithful, as gentle, querida mia as I, if that might be!”
“This is strange talk, Ramon. Surely you will not go tonight?”
“Yes. Now—this moment. The beast is too wild.”
He suddenly clasped her to him and for the first time, his young fresh lips crushed like flowers on hers. He said, “Querida, mia Querida remember me!” As though he were already lost. She saw the white stallion rear and plunge. But Ramon stood in his stirrups and waved to her.
To be continued …